In a previous blog we covered some of the ways that teeth can become sensitive. The underlying cause for this is what dentists call dentin hypersensitivity. This is a condition in which your dentin, the layer under your enamel, allows insults, especially temperature, to bother the nerve in the center of your tooth.

Gum recession is a common cause, and if it is severe enough we may recommend soft tissue grafting surgery to cover the exposed tooth roots. That’s for another blog… However, many patients, in our office and others, are told that an anti-sensitivity toothpaste is the way to go. One toothpaste that may immediately come to your mind is Sensodyne. This is a brand of toothpaste that was positioned as a way to combat dentin hypersensitivity. Most other major brands of toothpaste provide a similar product.  But how do they work?

Many anti-sensitivity products contain an ingredient called potassium nitrate. Without getting overly scientific, these compounds are responsible for the desensitization of nerve fibers. This effectively reduces their ability to fire, and therefore reduces the likelihood that a normal stimulus, like a cold beverage, will cause an abnormal, uncomfortable response. This is considered a medicament and may take up to two weeks to reach an effective therapeutic level, and the toothpaste needs to be used twice daily. This means that your “regular” toothpaste will need to be relegated to the back of the medicine cabinet. But don’t worry – there are many brands and flavors of toothpaste that contain potassium nitrate and they are all generally quite effective in reducing discomfort for those that suffer from mild-to-moderate dentin hypersensitivity.

In order to understand another type of anti-sensitivity product, I’ll have to explain the makeup of dentin. It is normally covered by enamel, which is very hard and protective. When a tooth is worn or your gums recede, the dentin may be exposed. Dentin is more porous than enamel. It contains microscopic tubules that fill with fluids, which move when sugars or cold come in contact with the tooth. This results in a transient pressure that is placed on the nerve, and an associated discomfort. Some toothpastes contain products that clog the tubules making it more difficult for this phenomenon to take place. A common ingredient is something called stannous fluoride and it is found in many toothpastes. This treatment often works much faster than potassium nitrate – a few days vs. two weeks.  

As with many medicines, when the patient stops using anti-sensitivity toothpaste, or doesn’t use them correctly, symptoms will likely return. If you have been bothered by tooth sensitivity, give us a call or let us know at your next appointment. It may simply mean that you have to change your toothpaste! We also offer fluoride treatments that are known to be effective in the treatment of dentin hypersensitivity.


CrossKeys Dental is located at 110 CrossKeys Office Park in Fairport. Dr. DuPre՛ and Dr. Badali provide comprehensive family dentistry and are always welcoming new patients. Visit us at for more information. 

         © 2018 CrossKeys Dental in Fairport, NY by Vince Badali, DDS.